Scotland’s farmers and crofters have united with the nation’s meat processors to highlight the importance of non-UK labour to Scotland’s iconic red meat sector.
Following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), Scottish farmers and crofters are voicing concerns about the loss of non-UK labour in Scotland.
With an estimated 50 per cent of the workforce in some of Scotland’s abattoirs and meat processing plants thought to be non-UK, NFU Scotland (NFUS) and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) are jointly calling on the UK government to provide assurances on their status now to provide stability going forward.
Both NFUS and SAMW are adamant decisions need to be taken now rather than waiting months or years for the Brexit pricess to commence.
Speaking after a meeting with senior vice president of SAMW, Frank Clark, NFUS’ livestock chair Charlie Adam said ongoing access to non-UK staff are a crucial part of ensuring an efficient Scottish meat industry.
He said: "Everyone involved in Scottish livestock needs a healthy, efficient processing sector to keep the Scottish meat industry and the Scotch brand growing and moving forward. And ongoing access to non-UK staff are a crucial part of that.
"While the timetable for Brexit remains to be defined, it is essential our abattoirs and processors don’t operate in an employment vacuum. Without a clear Government-led employment strategy for non-UK staff identified at an early stage in the process, we will see our abattoirs struggle to function.
"We are calling on the Government to ensure that abattoirs are not cut off from recruiting appropriate staff from outside the UK. These are permanent jobs and many of them are highly skilled.
"We have an industry in Scotland which provides top quality meat from farm to plate, but to keep this up we need the right people working in our red meat chain."
Mr Clark stated ’non-UK employees are currently making a vital contribution to the efficient and effective operation of the Scottish red meat processing sector’.
"In some plants, the non-UK workforce accounts for 50 percent of total employment numbers.
"It is clearly crucial that business owners are able to plan their future employment, training and development strategies with the confidence that their current workforce, UK and non-UK staff alike, will continue to be available to them on a long-term basis.
"In total, the Scottish red meat processing sector provides direct employment for approximately 2700 people, while supporting many more downstream businesses and jobs, including additional non-UK staff.
"The potential loss of up to half our processing workforce, or even two years of confusion concerning the status of that workforce, would seriously damage the Scottish red meat sector’s ability to compete on the world stage, substantially reducing the industry’s contribution to the Scottish economy.
"Our request to Government, therefore, is for clear assurances of long-term UK status to be given to our non-UK workforce. We also request that such assurances are provided now, not in two years’ time, or more.
"Failure to provide such assurances will damage the industry by stalling investment and undermining our existing and highly valued workforce. This must not be allowed to happen."